Forever Autumn Statement (with apologies to Jeff Wayne et al)

23 Nov

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds might be much colder
When EU’s not here.

We watch the points track south across the autumn graphs

And one by one they disappear
We hope we won’t be tracking with them
When EU’s not here

With development funds EU came to support us
Like a loose counterfoil EU’s blown away

Through autumn’s gold spreadsheet we used to click our way
We always loved this time of year.
Those falling points may disturb now
Cause EU won’t be here

With development funds EU came to support us
Like a loose counterfoil EU’s blown away ….

 

 

 

Pro Bono?

1 Nov

I can’t quite believe that this is the third blog I’ve written this year about dubious choices for awards; but – like a lot else in 2016 – the apparently simple act of rewarding women with prizes, seems to have gone awry.

First up was the Pretty Curious Challenge. This was a science and innovation competition for girls, which mysteriously elected part way through the process to include boys too, and ended up with a male winner by popular vote; next, just a couple of weeks ago, the UN was in hot water, over the choice of fictional character Wonder Woman, as an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. What could possibly be number 3? Well, Glamour magazine have just announced that one of the nominees in their high profile Women of the Year Awards is: Bono.  Yes, that’s right, U2’s frontman, and indubitably male philanthropist, is one of their Women of the Year – except he’s a kind of token man award winner, added in amongst the women. If you’re not speechless yet, the justification given for his award might just get you there:

‘when a major male rock star who could do anything at all with his life decides to focus on the rights of women and girls worldwide—well, all that’s worth celebrating. We’re proud to name that rock star, Bono, our first Man of the Year.’

Yes, imagine, a famous and talented man has actually thought about women – he could have done anything, supported any cause, but he decided to devote some time to the cause of women in poverty.  How telling is this statement about the secondary status of women? Women, it would appear, in Glamour’s world, are fantastically lucky if powerful men give them so much as a fleeting thought ….

What makes this all the worse, is that this reasoning behind selecting Bono, is preceded in the awards blurb by mention of the United Nations’ ‘HeforShe’ campaign.  This is fronted by Emma Watson, an actual woman, and a major actress who could have done anything, but decided to make the case for involving men in women’s rights across the globe.  So, if the shtick is, as Glamour put it, that ‘these days most women want men—no, need men—in our tribe’ why not give the award to a famous woman encouraging just that, instead of creating an additional place for a man? I cannot think of any convincing reason why not.

Awards that should be given to living, breathing female role models this year, have repeatedly been handed out to a man or boy, or a fantasy character.  This might hover just slightly above the indefensible if it was a case of ‘job done’ in terms of women’s equality.  And yet, over and over again it is shown that while there has been progress, women’s position in society is far from equal with men’s.  Only last week the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index showed that worldwide it will take an average of 83 years for women to reach parity with men, across economic and political power, health and education.  In spite of similar or better educational attainment, women still aren’t reaching the highest echelons of professions, and women remain disproportionately in low paid and undervalued jobs, and doing the bulk of unpaid domestic work and caring.  This means that awards for women should remain spaces where women who have achieved against the backdrop of continuing gender inequality are celebrated.  So, no, I am not pro Bono’s prize – why should a privileged man be rewarded here, in an award for women, for thinking about women’s plight, when so many women live and breathe the cause all the time?

EmPOWerment of women and girls

14 Oct

The UN has announced that Wonder Woman, the comic book superhero, is to become the Honorary Ambassador in support of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Whilst undoubtedly iconic, Wonder Woman remains a fictional character, which you would have thought might pose a few problems for a campaign about giving real people greater self-determination.  Is the idea of girls and women having power still in the realm of fantasy?

Coverage of Wonder Woman’s ascendancy has been more favourable at the geeky end of media, with both Wired and the Mary Sue emphasising Wonder Woman’s credentials as a strong female figure fighting for justice.  The Mary Sue went so far as to say that Wonder Woman represented the possibilities for females in a ‘world free from patriarchy’.  This might be going a little far for those who see her outfits (buttressed cleavage, hotpants) as an embodiment of exactly how patriarchy envisages powerful women ….

Newspaper commentary has been more sceptical, pointing out that an actual woman might have been a better inspiration for empowerment in girls.  Given that the UN has its own issues in terms of promoting real-life women to senior positions, going for the fantasy option seems unlikely to suggest that actual women have a chance of real power any time soon.  There is also an issue with the Ambassador’s role in speaking out around issues of violence against women, when Wonder Woman has been known to deploy high kicks and punches as conflict resolution techniques.

All in all if I had a lasso of truth I’d be tempted to fling it around UN headquarters and ask the powers that be if they see no problem with this decision.  Wonder Woman will be needing her indestructible bracelets to deflect the criticism of her appointment ….

 

Dad skills are from Mars ….

9 Oct

Buried in the headlines the other day (but not sufficiently interred to avoid mention in the Today programme’s papers slot) was a story about ‘Dad skills’.  A survey was conducted to find the top 50 skills for the modern father.  Even the king of low expectations could not have masked a little disappointment that the number 1 skill was identified as ‘keeping calm during family arguments’ – because women and children are always just losing their shit – and in the case of mothers, cleaning it up afterwards too, obviously….

As the relentlessly stereotyped list wandered on through barbecuing and DIY via the gift of bonding with kids through sport – which is, of course, a male preserve – my pink brain wondered what a list of mum skills would look like.  Since my kids’ Dad has set up wi-fi* (skill no 14) I was of course compelled to Google it.  And I have to say I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found – if you  Google ‘mum skills’ what you get is a range of lists which are all about how to put mothering stuff into that awkward gap on your CV.  I was so slack-jawed that I was almost late for picking up my children from after-school activities (I thought that was a task, but as ‘taking children to after-school clubs’ is no. 29 on the Dads’ list, I’m upgrading) ….

‘Mum skills’ are about transferring domestic and child-rearing competences to the workplace, so it’s all time management and negotiation skills (after all, how else do you get 3 year olds to cars?), and how you too can get teams to do what you want.  Now, I know as well as any parent that bringing up children is a profound learning experience, and that you can transfer all sorts of things to the workplace, but the idea that ‘Mum skills’ evoke a kind of marketization of relational stuff, while contemporary ‘Dad skills’ are mainly about outdoor activities and technical fixes, should give us all pause for thought.

Since the majority of mothers are employed outside the home, it seems remarkable that ‘Mum skills’ are discussed in terms of long-term career breaks. As it’s 2016, even Dads need to be ‘skilful’ in meeting their children’s emotional needs.  And apart from the odd nod to ‘counselling’ and ‘negotiation’ these needs seem strangely absent from the lists.  It’s enough to make me want to go and lie in a heap on the sofa with my offspring while discussing their day, or chatting about what’s on the telly (just as well Dad configured it- skill no 8 – but then I do no. 15, plastering holes in walls).

The ‘Dad skills’ survey was conducted for the people behind Bob the Builder – slogan ‘Can we fix it?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes, we can’. How? With less gender stereotyping of tasks/skills, decent shared parental leave, and listening to children, no matter what our work-life balance happens to be.  Meanwhile I’ll carry on blogging while doing other things – after all, ‘multi-tasking’ is pretty high on all those ‘Mum skills’ lists …

 

*he’s a geek, it makes sense

 

Power dressing

26 Sep

One way or another there’s been a lot of talk about dress codes lately. Last week law firm Slater Gordon released a survey which found that female workers are still scrutinised on appearance to a much greater extent than men, and that some are even actively instructed by bosses to change their clothing for the sake of business.  What changes are women expected to make? To wear high heels and make-up in client-facing roles, sometimes with the explicit suggestion to be ‘sexier’.

In 2016 it’s pretty depressing that expectations of female appearance should still centre around a particular version of what it is to be female.  And the real trouble is that senior staff (predominantly men) still find it acceptable to tell working women how to dress.  The point is that it should be up to women themselves how they choose to present themselves, within the levels of formality demanded by their role.  Dress is performative – we show aspects of conformity, individuality and identity through our choices – it can be a manner of showing all sorts of things about who we are.  To be told how to be is not a good look for the modern workplace. Nicola Thorpe’s campaign earlier this year to prevent employers from imposing the wearing of heels, gained high profile and made an important point about how expectations of appearance can turn into compulsion, which is a bad thing. Campaigns in support of flats shoes at work have followed, and have been good at showing how stylishness can take many forms with no relation to professional competence, but have sometimes tipped towards telling women not to wear heels at work. This seems like falling into the enforcement trap again.

It all got me thinking about how we negotiate our work appearance in the light of personal preferences and social cues. And it’s not just an issue for women.  Back in August research was published showing that City firms could pass over male candidates who wore the ‘wrong’ shoes with their suits.  Men without experience of mixing in these professional circles, often those from less advantaged backgrounds, might turn up for interview in brown, rather than black shoes, a potent indicator of lack of ‘polish’ which could cost them a job offer.  Like junior women being told to wear more make-up by their bosses, these men are in less powerful positions than the senior people assessing their presentability.

So what of the powerful men?  What are they wearing as they pass judgement on their more junior staff?  The answer is, of course, the suit.  The suit is the ultimate signifier of authority, the sign of the professional who means business.  Its subdued colours and ubiquity confer a kind of invisibility, and we forget its roots in military history, the jacket vents for horse riding, the shoulder line for epaulettes – reminders of established male power. When we think of leadership, we picture men in suits.  As Grayson Perry has written ‘The very aesthetic of seriousness has been monopolised by Default Man’.

And this notion of seriousness is at the heart of the problems with dress code.  Women can find it particularly hard to win on this one.  ‘Power dressing’ is often a matter of taking on the suit mantle – tailored jackets, dark trousers.   Or adapted via a pencil skirt or a dress under a jacket into a more feminine version of the same.  The paradox is, that should a woman take up advice to wear more make-up and heels, she may meet one set of criteria for ‘smartness’ but lose on another to do with being taken seriously. The men in suits still rule, and they can still look at the world with a male gaze.

Coverage of the dress code survey included examples of women negotiating this minefield – a barrister drawing sceptical looks and not being taken seriously when wearing a colourful dress in court, hospitality staff being asked to tone down make-up that was seen a ‘too much’ for highbrow clientele.  And you don’t have to look far for examples of academics or of MPs being underestimated because they happen to be presentable and female while doing their jobs.  Tonight Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet in the first of this year’s presidential debates, and Hillary is likely to be wearing one of her infamous pantsuits, her solution (like Angela Merkel’s) to the ‘what do powerful women wear amongst all the men in suits?’ conundrum.  Tomorrow we should be talking about what she said, and not about her pantsuit.  That would be presidential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazy Friday (with apologies to the Small Faces)

10 Sep

A-wouldn’t it be nice to get on with me neighbours?
But they make it very clear, they’ve got no room for Brexiteers

They stop me from groovin’, they won’t build me wall

They doing me Regional Development crust in, it’s no good at all, ah
Lazy Friday afternoon
I’ve got no mind to worry
I close my eyes and drift away-a
Here we all are sittin’ in a rainbow
Gor blimey, hello Mrs. May, how’s old Guy Verhofstadt’s negotiatin’? (he mustn’t grumble)
(Tweedle-dee) I’ll sing you a song with no words and no tune (twiddly-dee)
To sing in your Party while you souse at the moon (oh yeah)
Lazy Friday afternoon, I’ve got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away-a

Root-de-doo-de-doo, a-root-and-branch-recovery
A-root-de-doot-de-dum, a-root-and-branch-recovery…

 

 

 

Brexit Brainstorming – or Fifty Ways to Leave the EU (with apologies to Paul Simon)

31 Aug

The problem is all inside our heads

She said to us

Brexit is easy if you

Take it logically

I’d like to help you in your struggle

To be free

There must be fifty ways

To leave the EU

 

She said it’s really not my habit

To intrude

Furthermore, I hope my meaning

Won’t be lost or misconstrued

But I’ll repeat myself

Brexit is Brexit

And there must be fifty ways

To leave the EU

Fifty ways to leave the EU

 

You just slip out the back (Gove)

Make a new plan, David

You don’t need to be coy, Liam

Just get yourself free

Paint stats on a bus, Boris

You don’t need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Andrea

And get yourself free

 

She said it grieves me so

To see you still think of Remain

I wish there was something I could do

To make you smile again

We said we appreciate that

And would you please explain

About triggering Article 50?

 

She said why don’t we all

Just sleep on it tonight

After this brainstorming

You’re sure to see the light

And then she glared at us

And we realised she probably was right

There must be fifty ways

To leave the EU

Fifty ways to leave the EU

 

 

 

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